Our Commitment to Amplifying Black Voices in our National Research Study
A joint statement from LaPlaca Cohen and Slover Linett
When we began this national research and strategy collaboration, the “crisis” in our title was the coronavirus. Recent events have demonstrated (pun intended) that the actual crisis is deeper, more historical and unavoidably, irreducibly cultural. We set out to help the arts and culture sector both restart and rethink: this emergency, field-wide edition of Culture Track was (and is) meant to support not just a return to vibrancy but also continued progress toward equity, inclusion and wider relevance. Even before the killing of George Floyd and the international upwelling of anger and grief that has followed, we hoped that the arts and the museum field would be able to seize the opportunity for transformation — and that our findings would spark and inform those conversations. Now that goal is no longer merely embedded in this work; it is the work.
If the crisis of racial injustice and the broader battle for human equity are cultural, then cultural organizations can no longer view themselves as observers or cheerleaders of change, nor as sanctuaries from it. They are by definition on the front lines of this reckoning. They are both problem and solution, history and future.
Despite our efforts to include a strong representation of voices from communities of color in our large first-wave survey sample, the disproportionate whiteness of the people on the lists of cultural organizations, compared to the U.S. population, points to the longstanding disenfranchisement: the arts and culture field lacks standing in the struggle for equity because it’s not serving all kinds of communities equitably, and it never has. There are exceptions, to be sure, and even before the current crises there have been promising shifts, particularly in philanthropy; but the broad picture remains problematic.
So at this moment in the national project — as we analyze and interpret the data from the first wave of the national survey and begin designing the qualitative study and Wave 2 survey — we commit ourselves to amplifying black voices and illuminating the experiences and needs of communities that have long been underrepresented or subordinated in culture-sector research; and to exploring potentially uncomfortable questions about the purposes, policies, people and places of culture that determine who feels welcome, seen and served. We recognize that we can’t do those things alone; we have reached out to new partners and colleagues with relevant expertise, and we are seeking additional funding to enable them to join us in this evolving, increasingly urgent effort. Please stand by for news of those new team members as they’re confirmed in the near future.